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A research project financed by the ETUI has been able, for the first time, to estimate in Europe (35 countries analyzed), the number of cases of, and deaths from, depression and cardiovascular disease that can be directly attributed to psychosocial work exposure.

This new research confirms that exposure to psychosocial risks at work is at the root of certain pathologies, such as depression and coronary heart disease. The study focused on five psychosocial risks at work clearly identified in the scientific literature: job strain, effort-reward imbalance, job insecurity, long working hours, and bullying.

The attributable fractions (AFs) of depression were all significant in EU28: job strain (16%), job insecurity (9%), bullying (9%), and effort-reward imbalance (6%), despite we can see major difference from a country to another. For instance, in France, 19% of depression cases are attributable to workplace bullying when in Spain, 21% of depression cases are attributable to job strain! Developed through international collaboration between a Canadian (ESG-UQAM) and a French (INSERM) team, the attributable fractions (AFs) are based on the results of the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) carried out by EUROFOUND.

These significant data reinforce the need for an EU directive on psychosocial risks at work’’, justified ETUI Researcher Pierre Bérastégui. ‘All these new data show that it is more than an individual mental health issue’, ETUI Researcher Pierre Bérastégui said. ‘The implementation of the 2004 autonomous framework agreement on work-related stress in the Member States remains patchy, and the scope of worker protection inadequate. Exposures to psychosocial work factors are modifiable by preventive policies that address work organisation and working and employment conditions.’

The worst combination: being female, young and less educated

Along with these exclusive date, ETUI is publishing a second report on health inequalities related to psychosocial working conditions in Europe which examines changes in intersectional inequalities in working conditions and mental health before and during the pandemic.

According to the analysis, among workers, female employees with a lower level of education and aged 18-35 more frequently show signs of depression across various working conditions compared with not only older and more educated men but also older and more educated women.

State of play on mental health issue at EU Level

In September 2022, in her lengthy State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an initiative on mental health for 2023, stating that she had been significantly inspired by the outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Finally, this EC communication, was presented on 7 June 2023, but only mentioned a possible future EU initiative on psychosocial risks at work in the frame of a so-called new comprehensive approach to mental health.

According to the ETUC, this silent pandemic requires a stronger initiative. They are calling for an EU Directive in the area of psychosocial risks in the workplace and have also launched a campaign on the issue with Eurocadres:

See here for the full reports:

'The fractions and burden of cardiovascular diseases and depression attributable to psychosocial work exposures in the European Union'

'Health inequalities related to psychosocial working conditions in Europe'